AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Watchdog roundup: Crime prediction, prescriptions, prenatal tests under scrutiny

Big data is transforming law enforcement, or so the public has been told. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has credited data analytics for helping to forecast where and when criminals will strike, driving down the city's crime rate. "In the future, police will perfect the use of predictive analytics to thwart crimes before they occur," he said this summer, in sketching out the future of urbanism. But he might want to check out a new study, which called into question claims in Atlanta and elsewhere about the power of the numbers. Early findings from the study, funded by the National Institute of Justice, undercuts the claims. It found “no statistically significant change in property crime in the experimental districts that applied the predictive models compared with the control districts,” according to a story in NextCity.org.

Georgia is among a handful of states with doctors who prescribed at least 3,000 of the most potent controlled drugs to Medicare patients, ProPublica and USAToday reported in a joint investigation this past week. They quoted experts saying that the high number of prescriptions may indicate that the doctor is involved in a pill mill. But the story looks at an Athens, Georgia, doctor who was the third-highest prescriber of the drugs in the country in 2012 and explains why the numbers alone don't give a complete picture.

Prenatal screening tests may be giving women wrong information about their pregnancies, with a profound impact in Georgia, according to a report by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting. "This year alone, at the Emory Healthcare Department of Human Genetics in Georgia, officials have seen five newborns with Down syndrome whose prenatal noninvasive screens indicated that there was little risk of the condition," the center reported. In other cases, women who relied on the prenatal may be aborting healthy babies. The tests are unregulated, falling in an FDA loophole, it found.

Georgia gets a failing grade for how much information it provides the public about physician quality, says another healthcare-related report this week, this one by an advocacy group. The Peach State had plenty of company: Two states got As, two got Bs, two got Cs, and four got Ds. All the rest flunked, according to the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute.

Coming Sunday:Why do so many sexual assaults on Georgia college campuses go unprosecuted. An AJC investigation that even when victims are willing to come forward, law enforcement doesn't pursue the cases.

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About the Author

Lois Norder is Senior Editor for Investigations in the newsroom at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.